Jobs Speeches vs. Jobs Plans

I'm on board with those upset over the infuriating optics of the President asking for a speech, Republicans shouting we don't wanna, and the President backing downAgain.  First reaction, for some reason it riled me more than Democrats rolling over in the debt-ceiling debate.  Second, the win here was nil, save a few -- admittedly too rare -- headlines like "The President Actually Tells Republicans No."

Republicans don't want to detract from their debate.  Fine.  The President shouldn't want to detract from that debate either.  It's Rick Perry's big moment, and smart money says that's comedy gold.  No one outside the beltway is going to care about the reschedule, or who looks like the adult in the room by next week.

In fact the speech itself will be a minor blip on the radar compared to any jobs plan itself, if -- a big if -- the President gets real.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, via LA Times:

Who knows what's politically achievable until we try?" Trumka said. "The president should articulate a solution of the size and scale necessary to solve the problem. We have a jobs crisis. … If you do only what you think the other side and the 'tea party' will agree to, then they control the agenda." 


For those worried about the deficit, Trumka insists that job creation and deficit reduction go hand in hand.

"They complement one another," he said. "You want to get rid of the deficit? Put 25 million people back to work and you won't have a deficit problem."

Trumka gives the Times a detailed plan worth reading, but the point here is behind the details: Set the bar on a jobs plan as high as you can, and use that as a starting point. 

Just like was said in the stimulus debates.  And the health care debates.  And the Bush Tax Cuts debates.  And the debt ceiling "debates."  And...

Republicans will oppose and roll out the hyperbole cannons, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann will say dumb things.   But economically this is a chance to set an agenda and begin addressing an actual problem.  Politically this is the Democrats' last chance before the 14 month circus is in full swing to reset the narrative ceded the GOP.

Voters have already reset, Republicans have shown their hand with Bush's Cantor's jobs plan deregulatory orgy which managed to be even more sucktastic than his last "jobs" plan.  It's not going to take a committee to find a more popular and effective first step:

Over much of the 20th century, America's strong infrastructure investment was a major factor attracting global corporations headquartered in other countries to invest and create jobs here. Rising U.S. standards of living were fueled by a strong infrastructure system that facilitated the growth of companies in America, both global and domestic alike: transportation systems to move people and products, electrical systems to power plants and offices, communications backbones to drive computers and creativity. By 2008, the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies employed over 5.6 million Americans -- nearly 2 million in manufacturing -- and exported $232.4 billion in goods. That's 18.1% of America's total.

(h/t Think Progress)

Changing the Game: Your Part, My Part

In an era when the oil and gas industry poured more than $22 million into candidates’ coffers in the 2010 election cycle, it is easy to believe polluters hold all the cards. The truth is there are still ways to gain political power that don’t involve writing a fat check.

But in order to get in the game, you have to show up.

You have to get on your feet and make your presence known at lawmakers’ district offices, hometown rallies, or Washington events.  Some folks make their presence known through civil disobedience. I am too much of rule-bound first-born to take that path; being my mother’s daughter and having an arrest warrant just don’t jibe. But I have great respect for those who use this peaceful technique to capture politicians’ attention.

This week, for instance, environmental activist Bill McKibben, has organized daily sit-ins at the White House to call on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline . The pipeline, which would run 1,700 miles from Alberta to Texas, would lock America into using more dirty tar sands oil—a fuel that generates three times as much global warming pollution as regular crude.

The people risking arrest include farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and landowners from along the proposed pipeline route. They include religious leaders, labor activists, and others. And they include the renowned Gus Speth, one of the co-founders of NRDC, the chair of President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, and the former director of the United Nations Development Programme.  Speth was arrested during the sit-in, along with 161 other people so far. In a statement  from the Central Cell Block of the D.C. Jail, he said, “I’ve held numerous positions and public offices in Washington, but my current position feels like one of the most important.”

Having respected citizens like Speth invite arrest—during the same week the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is being dedicated in Washington no less—gets attention. It makes it harder for leaders to pretend constituents don’t care about the tar sands oil pipeline.

But civil disobedience is just one approach. If that’s not your style, you can find other ways to step up.

Because this is the season to get involved. It is the season of candidates riding around on bus tours. It is the season of new candidates joining races every other week. And it is the season of Member of Congress fighting to keep their jobs.

It is a political truism that even when people hate Congress as a whole, they still like their own members. The 112th Congress has blasted that pattern to bits. Earlier this month, CNN released a poll that showed for the first time ever that people are ready to throw their elected officials out of office regardless of party. This is sobering news for lawmakers.  It also means members will be spending more time in their home districts trying to shore up support. I encourage you to attend their public events (you can often find schedules on their websites) and ask them where they stand on key environmental issues.

Posing questions accomplishes two things. First, you find out what their position is.  One of the most powerful images for me in the 2010 election was from a video on YouTube of a young woman from St. Louis asking Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill: are you on the side of polluters or are you on the side of the people? McCaskill said she stood with people, but then she wound herself up into an agitated response, acknowledging the political contributions she gets from coal companies and even saying that the young woman’s question “irritates” her. Well, at least we know more about where she stands.

Second, asking questions show lawmakers that voters value environmental protections. Polluters are very busy trying to tell them otherwise. As the New York Times pointed out recently, candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have turned bashing the Environmental Protection Agency into a part-time sport. I think they do it because they think no one cares about environmental and public health safeguards.

We have to show them that we do care.

Politics is about repetition, and we need to use every town hall meeting, every bus-tour stop, and every ribbon cutting ceremony to tell our representatives that we care about environmental protection. And then we need to do it again.

The more we show up, the harder it is for them to ignore us. And the more we speak up, the sooner they will have to respond.

Why Obama/Dems are less trustworthy than Bush/GOP

It might seem hyperbolic or facetious that a left-leaning blogger would argue that Obama and the Democrats are less trustworthy than Bush and the Republicans. I am not claiming that Bush or Republicans make better, more desirable leaders than Obama or the Dems. What I am arguing is that Republicans can generally be trusted more than Democrats to do what they say they are going to do. In a nutshell, the reason is... READ ON.




Destabilizers and Laying Blame

Set aside S&P's credibility problems and their $2 Trillion oopsie (also, somewhat credible defenses from Ezra Klein and Felix Salmon), and what they're saying is we don't care exactly how you do it, as long as everyone agrees to do it for longer than the next election cycle.  Cuts are super, no revenue increases = unrealistic, and someone we aren't serious enough to name specifically used the prospect of default as a bargaining chip, and that's just crazy.

The reasons for the downgrade, in a nutshell: dysfunctional politics.  And NYU's Jay Rosen nails it in a tweet:

If we are to credit S & P's clear thinking, as says, then the opinion should have read: the Republicans destabilized the system.

But saying that directly in a report that could (probably not) further weaken the US economy would be uncivil! Let's just dance around it, fan the flames of dysfunction, and scurry back before Goldman Sachs yells at us again.

In the end, the downgrade may be useful in elevating a legitimate point from progressive circles to, oh, say, the White House and Senate Dems:  The House of Representatives is held hostage by a pack of simple minded zealots who don't give two shits about governance, economics, or reality. The Daily Beast profiles 19 freshmen who'd like to see it all burn:

If there is one thing clear from the Tea Party caucus’ first triumph, it is that its members don’t adhere to Washington convention or care about public sentiment. The greater the criticism, the more they stiffen. Their singular focus is collapsing the size of government, at any cost.

No tactic is too extreme, no issue too small (debt-ceiling votes used to be routine before they came to Washington), and no offer of a federal project for their district or a glitzy committee assignment can lure them from the stubborn line they intend to hold against spending.

“So you’re sitting down with [Speaker] Boehner and [House Majority Leader] Cantor, and they’re offering you stuff for a vote,” Walsh, the Illinois Republican, recalls. “They can help you and do some things, you know, committee assignments and help moving up the chain.

“But whew,” he says, making a whistling sound and sweeping his hand over his head. “You’re talking beyond me. I just don’t care.”

Calling this a mere lack of adherance to "Washington convention" is like calling Charlie Manson a "free thinker."  It's clear, for what it's worth, that S&P puts a lot of the reason for the downgrade on a handful of lawmakers with a near-religious fidelity to an American history they've re-imagined in their own image.  It's not just that the President shouldn't be open to negotiating with the lowest common demoninators, it's that you can't negoatiate with them, and they rule the GOP.

Also via Tweet, Robert Reich sees a way around it for Obama:

Mr President: Put forth bold jobs plan, challenge Rs to support it, and if they refuse make it center of your 2012 campaign.

Keyword: bold.  Drew Westen writes today that the President's problem is messaging.  He didn't tell a story with clearly defined villains, Westen says.  I agree.  But while the blame for the downgrade itself may be clear, blame for the situation right now should be spread on Democrats across the board.  More from the Daily Beast:

This time the geometry of triangulation is different. Obama is hunkered in one corner with House and Senate Democrats, who are increasingly alienated by the president’s willingness to compromise with the conservative wing of the GOP.

House and Senate Democrats are alienated?  Valid criticism -- and important going forward -- but Democratic lawmakers get a pass now considering their track record and the Legislative Meh they've served up again and again?  The POTUS and Democratic lawmakers shoulder the blame for the 2010 outcome.  Sure the story could have been better told by Obama. Also true, legislative agendas under a Democratic majority haven't lent themselves well to defining a compelling narrative. For every legislative success there is a contradicting backstory.  For every bold challenge, a walk back.  Where's the inspiration in running away from a pre-election Bush Tax Cut fight? Where's the vision in letting Max Bacchus wander health care reform through the woods for months?  NYT's Timothy Egan wrote in August 2010, foretelling Democratic losses, "[Democrats] have been terrible at trying to explain who they stand for and the larger goal of their governance."

The public has long been soured on the tea party, even in conservative meccas.  They support tax reforms and increased contributions from the nation's most wealthy.  They've cooled on the overly-simplistic Republican slogans and warmed to blaming them for failure to solve our country's problems.  They want Social Security and Medicare strengthened not shredded

Now if they could only find a party that stood for those things!

Debt ceiling deal reached, catastrophe "averted"

Unless Boehner demands more (he is) of the everything he's already getting, it looks like the debt ceiling deal is in the bag. Voting expected in a few hours.

Brad DeLong and Yglesias forgo the not surprising -- if depressing -- details to ponder the biggest loser here: governance.

... whenever the desires of the president conflict with the desires of the speaker of the House, the president has little leverage. Any speaker who does not fear disaster can roll any president. In this future, any bill that a speaker insists is must-pass gets attached to a debt-ceiling increase, and--unless there are people in the Senate equally willing to risk disaster, which is unlikely because senators are status-quo players too--so becomes law.

It's like a parliamentary system, with the debt-ceiling votes filling the role of votes of confidence.

Ezra Klein says don't worry, Democrats.  You're the self-appointed losers again, but you could accidentally win as we're baking the welcome cakes for President Romney.

On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is...nothing.

This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome -- a government default -- that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012: the Obama administration.

Until then, brace yourself for increased state contraction thanks to all this Teanomic "compromise," and -- of course -- triggers:

Revenues, in other words, won't be forbidden by the deal, but will be an uphill climb. Some Democrats think they have added leverage because if Republicans pull such a trigger, it will provide them with a helpful message going into the next election: Republicans were so unwilling to end egregious tax loopholes and breaks for millionaires, that they triggered devastating cuts to domestic and defense programs. Levin doesn't really buy it.

Levin's a smart guy.


We have had a non-declining 9% plus unemployment very low interest rate economy for two years now. And the employment-to-population ratio has not moved. Something about the future must be different from the recent past in order to get it to move upward. Starting in 1994 it was the dot-com boom that pulled us out of that jobless recovery. Starting in 2004 it was the housing boom that pulled us out of that jobless recovery. What is going to pull us out of this jobless recovery? I don't see it yet.

In my view the chance that the unemployment rate will be 9% or higher at the end of 2012 has just crossed 50%, heading upward.

Yay compromise!


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